I am writing this as SXSWedu kicks off with a fantastic cast of speakers and sessions, and certainly no shortage of excitement from the thousands of attendees. While many of you may be attending or have attended this conference in the past, we understand that this conference marches to the beat of its own drum, so to speak. That being said, it has continued to grow since its inception nearly a decade ago.
This begs the question: are we looking at education and edtech conferences in the same way we did five years ago? Should we be looking at them differently?
The vast majority of the larger education conferences are part of “conference season” during the first 3-4 months of the year: FETC, BETT (don’t forget about our friends across the pond!), TCEA, TASA’s mid-wintershow, ASCD, AASA, and too many more to mention throughout the year.
Our industry is one that values personal relationships and face-to-face interaction, but with so many conferences and events to consider, where does one even start?
My advice is to start with your goals. What are your company’s top priorities for this part of your sales and marketing plans: Brand awareness? Prospecting? Connecting with customers? Keep in mind that you may not be able to translate your spend into sales opportunities quickly as our sales cycles can be long. Patience is key.
Regardless of which opportunities you choose to pursue, here are some tidbits of knowledge to keep in mind that I have learned from my own experience working with clients and talking with trusted colleagues, partners, and friends within the industry—including those administrators we are all so desperately trying to get in front of!
- Don’t just exhibit!
This is as true for a local, regional, or national conference as it would be for an event held by EdSurge, a DALI summit, or a Learning Counsel event. Seek out ways that you can communicate about the bigger picture, not just your products or services.
Oftentimes, conferences launch their request for presentations months or even a year before the conference itself happens. Get those dates on your calendar and contact your customers to see if they would present with you or on your behalf.
For events like the ones I mentioned above, speaking opportunities are often included in your sponsorship package. Don’t waste this chance by talking only about your product—unless that is the intent of the opportunity you sign on for (think Shark Tank).
- Don’t rely on the Field of Dreams thought process. (Sorry, Kevin Costner!)
Just because you “build it” doesn’t mean they will come! Having a booth and depending on the right traffic to happen by your location will not get you the results you are looking for.For both conferences and sponsored events, do your homework and plan activities for before, during and after the show, whatever that “show” might be.
How can you get in front of your target audience in a meaningful way with a message that will inspire them to act? Over recent years, we have seen a steady decline in administrator visibility on tradeshow floors. So now more than ever, you have to be memorable! At a conference like iNACOL or ASCD, both large conferences, you are one of many hundreds of companies trying to get on their radar (and dance card!). What can you offer them? What kind of experience can you create?
We have seen companies host poetry slams, lunch and learns and city tours. (Any time you are doing these, be sure that you are abiding by any gift laws in place for educators.) Rather than looking at how to simply generate leads, think about how you can create an experience conducive to admins learning about your company that is so memorable that they will take your calls or answer your emails when they return from the event and real life sets back in.
- Don’t go big or go home.
At the more personalized events and conferences, it is not so much about how big you go, it’s more about how focused and personalized you can be. Be something to someone rather than trying to be everything to everyone. Shape your conference and event strategy around that.For example, if legislation has recently passed in a few states that may be conducive for your product or service, you may be better off skipping the national AASA conference in favor of those state chapter conferences, On the other hand, you may decide to send a core group to a larger event that connects administrators to vendors but carries a $30,000 price tag rather than investing that budget into three or four smaller conferences.
In any case, these are all opportunities that can produce results for you and your company, it really comes down to focusing on the goals you want to achieve and looking holistically at the opportunities available that will help you exceed projections. These experiences can vary greatly based on booth location or what city an event is held in, so be sure to do your homework and be proactive rather than reactive when planning your yearly events and conferences!
Jacob Hanson is the CEO of PR with Panache!, an award-winning PR and integrated marketing firm that serves companies in the pre-K–12 education industry. He tweets @PRwithpanacheJacob and can be reached via email at Jacob@prwithpanache.com .